Maggie is a psychologist and an accountant who likes to cook and entertain for her friends and her large family.
Here you'll find five steps to help you host an awesome indoor or outdoor summer barbecue. After the quick list, you'll find a more in-depth version of the step-by-step instructions.
5 Steps to Successfully Plan a Summer BBQ
- Choose a Location and Time: Location options include your house, various outside spaces (like a campground or a park), or a backyard. When choosing a time, weekends usually work best for everyone. Plan to have a four-hour window of time so that people don't need to stress over timing.
- Invite People: For a small party (like one family or three adults), consider sending texts. For a larger party, consider sending emails or e-vites. Smaller parties are usually more manageable.
- Decide What Food and Drinks to Serve: Stick to hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken skewers and veggie skewers for your main course. Soda, wine, and beer should cover the drinks. As for appetizers, some chips and a veggie platter are usually good places to start. Plan on about two or three items of each thing (three drinks, three grilled things, etc) for each person. Cookies or brownies are a really easy dessert option.
- Prepare the Food: The meat and veggie skewers should, hopefully, be the only things that need to be cooked.
- Consider Any Other Logistics: Such as . . .
- Adjusting for Your Guests: As always, adjust according to your guests. If you have a bunch of vegetarians coming, focus on veggies more. If you have a bunch of red-beef lovers coming, you might consider forgoing the chicken. Got a bunch of children coming? Substitute the beer for juice boxes.
- Don't Forget the Utensils: You'll need napkins, paper plates, cups, and cutlery.
- Music: Have tunes! You might use a bluetooth speaker or another type of audio setup.
1. Choose a Location and Time
- Decide Where You Want to Have Your Barbecue: Great barbecue parties are easy, whether they are held in the back yard, apartment terrace, or outside spaces where grills are available. You can also bring your own small grill to the park, beach, or lawn of your building or park. A small barbecue on a crowded apartment terrace is just as much fun as a big one in the backyard! Are you worried about rain? No problem! Just grill and have everyone eat inside. It will still be fun, festive, and delicious!
- Decide What Day & Time to Have Your Barbecue: The best days and times to have your summer barbecues are Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays, either late afternoon/evening (5-9), or during the day (12-4). Having a larger block of time this way keeps things feeling casual, and it allows your guests to do what they have to do on the weekends, while still being able to attend your barbecue.
- Adjust Accordingly: Adjust the time to match your guests. If it's an adult crowd, then call the party for later times, such as 6-10 p.m. or 2-6. If you are inviting families with children, then make the barbecue earlier; for example, 4-8 p.m. or 11-3.
2. Invite People
Decide whether or not you want a big BBQ or a small one.
- A Big Shindig: If you are having a big barbecue, then invite everyone you know, and increase the number of hours of the party so that everyone will have an opportunity to stop by. If you are expecting a lot of people, then plan on accepting guests' offers to bring drinks or simple desserts that require little setup or cleaning on your part. Some good examples that you might encourage people to bring are beer, soda, cookies, or brownies. Avoid having guests bring appetizers or side dishes, as this can get dicey. If a guest wants to bring their grandmother's "famous" German potato salad (heavy on vinegar, eggs, and pickles), or a fruit pie that they "only" have to warm up in your oven for 10 minutes before serving, then politely tell them that you have all of the food handled, but can they please do you a giant favor and bring a six-pack, some more ice, or some soda?
- A Small Get-Together: Small barbecue parties are just as much fun as big ones and easier to do because you get more time to mingle with your friends. And there is less food to prepare and cook, as well as less clean-up. Also, the cost of the party is less. Many people prefer to have several smaller barbecues over the summer, as opposed to one large one. You can go as small as inviting over one family with kids or three adults. It's still fun either way. Many experienced party hosts come to find that they actually prefer to have these smaller, more manageable barbecues.
Whichever You Chose: RSVP's Are Important!
- See Who Is Actually Coming: Make sure that you communicate with your guests to make sure that they are coming! This cannot be overstated when it comes to larger barbecues. Guests may say that they're coming, but then they fail to show up (or they do not respond at all to your initial invitation). It's easier to plan the right amount of food and drink once you know for sure how many guests are coming.
- Follow Up—Twice: A little extra work on your part (e.g., a text a couple of hours before the party if it's small or an email to everyone the day before if it's a larger barbecue) helps greatly. When it comes to hosting large barbecue parties, many experienced hosts will send out E-vite or paperless post invitations, and then they will follow up twice to make sure that people respond and are still planning to attend.
3. Decide What Food and Drinks to Serve
Keeping things simple is the key to success here.
- Stick to the Classics: Hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken skewers with vegetables are best. Plan to have an equal amount of these three items. Plan for 2-3 grilled items per guest. The chicken always seems to be more popular than you might think. Also, you can adjust your menu according to the crowd. For example, if there are no children, then you can take away the hot dogs or keep just a small pack handy "just in case." Serious red-meat eaters? Ditch the chicken and serve hamburgers and steaks only. Vegetarians? Have a small pack of veggie burgers on hand, and they can eat those, as well as the appetizers and desserts. The key here is to keep it simple with two, at most three, grilled food options (not counting the emergency pack of veggie burgers that you should have on hand for a big barbecue). Do not worry about the veggie burgers being grilled on the same grill that was used for meat—any guest who has trouble with that will likely be fine making do with the rest of the food that you have available.
- Simplicity Is Key: Beer, wine, sparkling water, and soda are the best. Adjust the drinks to fit your crowd. If it's a small barbecue and you know your friends don't drink soda or wine, then skip those. If you are expecting small children, then add juice boxes/pouches or lemonade, and skip the soda.
- For Fancier Libations: If you're feeling ambitious, make a pitcher of margaritas (use margarita mix & tequila) or sangria (fruit, wine, and sangria mix). Plan for each guest to have 3 drinks (whether it's soda, beer, wine, etc.).
- Don't Forget the Ice: For a large gathering, don't forget the ice and a big tub or ice chest in which to put the drinks. If it's a small barbecue, you can use the ice from your freezer and put it in some pots or pans to keep the drinks cold (try to refrigerate the drinks first). Try to use a different tub or pot for each type of drink.
- Chips and Dip and Veggie Platters for the Win: A large, pre-made veggie and dip tray is indispensable! You can buy one of these at Costco or another big box store for less than what it would cost to make one yourself. These are easy to just unwrap and place on the table before guests are due to arrive. Add a big bowl of chips (kids like these), some hummus or other dips, a big bowl of tortilla chips, and a large bowl of guacamole, and you are good to go. Many experienced hosts put these appetizers out in advance, keeping the dips and the guacamole on top of ice (put the plastic containers they come in on top of a small bowl of ice) and covering them with a piece of foil or plastic wrap.
- Corn: Buy some corn that already has the husk off, and then break these in half. Wrap each half piece in foil, and place them on the grill. You can cook these ahead of time. Serve with a stick of butter on the table (to roll the corn on) and a shaker of salt. Corn on the cob holders are nice to have but aren't necessary.
- Potato Salad: Buy (or make) potato salad. Be sure to keep it refrigerated until the grilled food is being served.
- Cookies, Cupcakes, and Watermelon, Oh My!: A few plates of cookies and cupcakes are the best desserts. Watermelon is also a wonderful dessert. Again, simple is best.
4. How to Cook the Food
Before the party, make the hamburger patties and cut the chicken and vegetables into chunks. Assemble the chicken and vegetable skewers. Season the meats with salt and pepper, and keep everything refrigerated until the guests start to arrive. Don't forget the hamburger and hot dog buns!
Cook the burgers on high heat each side for a minute or two before adjusting the heat, and then continue cooking until cooked well enough for your guests' tastes. Be sure to ask each guest how well done he or she likes their meat. If cooking steak, you would also sear the outside and then cook on medium until the inside is as well done as your guests prefer (check by cutting into the inside with a knife).
5. Consider Any Other Logistics
- Utensils & Plates: The heavy-duty "party pack" utensils that come complete with large and small substantial plates, forks, knives, spoons. and tablecloths are the best. They even include plastic-lined tablecloths. You can typically find packs like this at Costco. You might also find them at supermarkets, party stores, and on eBay.
- Cups: A large pack of 6-8 ounce plastic cups is best. Any larger and the drinks will be poured will likely go to waste.
- Music: Great music helps make the party! Wireless speakers will bring the music to wherever your guests are eating.
motherof2 on July 26, 2019:
Great tips for a birthday party at a forest preserve. I have been searching for a list of ideas didn't find it until I came across to yours. I will definitely save this one. Thanks a million!!
MarthaMahon on April 23, 2019:
Thank you for these tips.
Rocket on August 28, 2018:
Blimey moan moan moan about veggie burgers. If you came to my house you’d get what you’re given or go home.
@ DBS on May 23, 2018:
You do realize that even if your veggie burgers are cooked first, meat was still cooked on the grill whenever it was last used.
Sam on August 15, 2017:
Fantastic and detailed list, thank you!
DBS on May 24, 2017:
As a vegetarian, I absolutely hate it when people cook veggie burgers on the same grill after the meat was cooked. Expecting us to "make do" is not nice. All you have to do is either cook the vegetarian items first, or place them on foil so they don't touch the grill or other meat.
Firoz from India on July 07, 2013:
Great tips on Summer Barbecue Party. Voted up.